Datacentre Management: Balancing energy efficiency

In the past, balancing energy efficiency with the provision of a reliable, mission critical service has been a real challenge for data centre managers. But the rise in new technologies and strategies will now enable the modern data centre to more effectively manage these concerns.

Here, Leo Craig, general manager of Riello UPS examines technology changing the way data centres work and why, before long, lengthy EU legislation will force owners to think more carefully than ever about their carbon footprint.

Data, data, everywhere

We live in a true information age and with the sheer amount of data out there in the world, the need to have a robust infrastructure to handle this is more essential than ever. But as the amount of data increases, so does the strain on the data centre and this in turn pushes up the amount of energy being used. Statistics show that some data centre facilities have power densities more than 100 times that of a typical office building and that greenhouse gas emissions from data centres are projected to more than double between 2007 and 2020. However, 2020 also marks an important milestone as the Government boldly aim for ‘20-20-20’; 20 per cent reduction in consumption, 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions and 20 per cent reduction in cost. Whilst this reduction is not going to be solely down to data centre energy consumption, managers will still have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this target.

Redefining the role of UPS

Where UPS technology has established benefits in terms of power quality, business continuity and guarantee of power supply, in the future its role as a form of energy storage will become increasingly critical.

Using Lithium Ion (Li-ion) batteries with the UPS presents an opportunity to use the UPS as an energy accumulator, allowing the data centre to use stored power during times of peak demand. As Li-ion batteries have greater cyclic properties (10,000 cycles) compared to valve-regulated lead acid batteries (500 cycles) they have a faster rate of recharge which makes them suitable for energy storage applications. Li-ion batteries now give data centres the ability to store sufficient power capacity to keep the data centre running for 30 to 60 minutes or more without having to run the generator.

More and more data centres are also taking up ‘triad’ or ‘smart’ contracts with Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) which means that when demand from the grid is high, instead of cutting power from a facility without warning, the data centre receives a request from the DNO to remove itself from the grid and use generators instead to support the data centre.

Operating modes

Traditionally, the UPS has only been used on critical loads within the data centre with other services such as air handing relying on a generator for emergency power. It is still essential that the UPS operating in ‘online operation’ mode supports the critical loads to continue to protect against the increasing micro breaks and spikes caused by increased grid switching due to our greater reliance on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. But there is now the possibility to support the other services with a UPS and Li-ion batteries with the UPS in ‘offline’ or ‘emergency standby’ mode. This means the UPS is running at 99.5 per cent efficiency and is effectively acting as an energy accumulator and can be used in power outages.

Power density driving data centres

In the modern data centre, floor space is now a key consideration but one which poses a number of challenges, as squeezing more resources into a smaller area requires improved cooling facilities. With this demand has come a trend in ‘modular’ data centre design which allows for flexibility and ease for expansion in data centres ranging in size from micro to large scale. Modular design offers the maximum in availability, scalability, reliability and serviceability whilst also offering high efficiency, low cost of ownership and a high power density. And this trend is only going to increase as according to global research body Frost & Sullivan, the market for modular UPS is expected to grow to £260m (US $400m) by 2017. The 2012 Best Practice Guide for the EU Code on Data Centres also recommends a modular approach to data centre design.

Pending legislation – the time to act is now

With new European directives on energy management edging ever closer, now is the time for data centre managers to think carefully about energy consumption and the overall effectiveness of the data centre. Preparing businesses for the pending legislation in 2016, the European Commission has created the ‘Code of Conduct for Energy Efficiency in a data centre’ which details measures for data centres to consider the environmental impact of their operations. Whilst this is voluntary at the moment, the measures are expected to form the basis of more stringent legislation in the future. Similarly, the Data Centre Alliance (DCA) has introduced a new certification scheme, which aims to provide the industry with a clear set of criteria designed to embrace existing codes and standards of best practice to assess the quality and resilience of a facility.